The bill (HB961) is 34 pages, was sent out late last night after being hammered out in darkness, and was considered for little more than an hour in the Senate Judiciary I Committee. Ironically, it is a bill entitled “Government Ethics and Campaign Reform Act of 2010.” The portion of the act that strengthens ethics in government enjoys wide, if not unanimous, support.
However, numerous Republicans in the Judiciary Committee, all of which did not see the bill until this morning, oppose the portion of the bill that would expand publicly financed campaigns to include the Commissioners of Agriculture and Labor, the Secretary of State, Treasurer and the Attorney General. Passage of the expansion of public campaign funding for Council of State races likely would not pass as a standalone bill so the rather contentious issue was included in a broader ethics bill to ensure passage. The powers that be know that legislators who oppose public financing will face a tough political choice – they must vote in favor of a policy they do not support (expanding public financing) or be forced to defend voting against the ethics provisions in the bill.
This, my friends, is how the sausage is made but the irony is too egregious not to note. That a contentious provision is being rammed through the General Assembly in an ethics bill is the essence of what many voters despise about the current political culture in Raleigh. Public financing is certainly bad policy but it does deserve to be debated, separately, on its merits.